In a new update on our exciting Bishop's House Garden Wildlife Audit project, Volunteer Surveyor Barry Madden reveals all about the beautiful wild flowers in the garden, while Head Gardener Sam Garland explains how he ensures natural balance.
The sight that greeted me as I turned into the meadow area of the Bishop's Garden made me stop in my tracks and utter an exclamation of delight. The scene before me was one of sheer beauty; a carpet of dainty cowslips nodding gently in an early morning breeze, bathed in the crisp light of a May morning. Amongst these pastel yellow flowers were small groups of bluebells providing a pleasant colour contrast to the sward. Wonderful.
A more detailed audit of the area revealed many more wild flowers taking advantage of the enlightened attitude of the gardening regime here. I'm by no means anything approaching a wild flower expert, but could easily identify cow parsley, white comfrey, green alkanet, meadow saxifrage and creeping buttercup, as well as the humble, often overlooked, but extremely valuable dandelions and daisies. More will be revealed as the seasons unfold.
It is all too easy to dismiss wild flowers as nothing more than weeds, but this is, I think, a big mistake. The species on show today play a very important part in providing much needed nectar for early emerging insects. Most have evolved in tandem with native insects and help them obtain the energy needed to commence their breeding cycle. Certainly, the bees that were very active in the hives placed in the sunny area of this lovely sheltered grove were making full use of the flowers. They will of course go on to play a critical role in the pollination of the fruit trees and vegetables growing around the rest of the garden. If you have a small patch of your own garden that you can set aside for native wild flowers, it will pay you to do so. Not only will you have some very beautiful plants to admire, but you will also reap the reward of encouraging those crucial pollinators.
Sam Garland, Head Gardener at the Bishop's Garden, explains his philosophy thus:
"I try to encourage self-sown wild flowers (often considered to be weeds) and naturalised bulbs wherever possible in the garden. This means leaving early flowering self-sown plants such as white comfrey and green alkanet next to hedges as a spring nectar source for insects and cutting them down before they set seed and get too out of control. I encourage the rampant onward march of bluebells as they take over more shady areas of the garden, but stop them before they encroach too much into lawns, paths or planted borders. Including self-sown wild flowers in the garden is always a delicate balancing act between offering habitat and sources of nectar for wildlife, and preventing them from taking over and becoming dominant. It requires time and patience but is a fulfilling way of working with the natural world to nurture garden wildlife."
It is not an easy task to create a fully fledged wild flower meadow in your garden, but it is certainly easy to mow the lawn less often to allow daisies and dandelions to flower. You may not wish for swaths of unruly wild flowers to take over your borders, but making room for a few species like red campion, ox-eye daisies or poppies, which you can easily grow from seed, will provide splashes of colour and can be easily controlled. Why not make it a fun activity for your children or grandchildren? Buy a packet of seed, help them nurture the seedlings and then plant out into a sunny patch. Even a cheap plastic flower tub will be perfect for the job. Imagine their delight when the first bee or butterfly pays a visit - you'll have created your very own mini nature reserve. It may have cost a couple of pounds, but its value will be so much more.
You can find out more about the Bishop's House Garden Wildlife Audit project here.
Barry Madden is a Volunteer Surveyor with the Bishop's House Garden project.
Header image: Bishop's Garden wild flowers by Barry Madden